Saturday, April 9, 2011


I realize that most of you have lives and aren’t glued to CNN for hours at a time because you don’t want to miss Harry Reid’s monotonic address about budget negotiations. And I celebrate that. As you raise your children, advance your careers and lavish your spouses with either affection or neglect, I live vicariously through you. Yesterday, my lack of life enabled me to obsessively indulge in the latest piece of political theater and luckily for all of us, it had a happy ending.

The government shut down was averted and both parties rejoiced, lauding the achievement as “historic” and an illustration of “democracy at work.” And I’ll admit, the small victory (avoiding melt downs qualify as such in this Washington climate) made my heart swell and my loins tingle. Once in a while our government acts remotely competent and minimally functional and it makes me smile so.

But yesterday does not negate the fact that we still have a serious problem that needs to be addressed…coming up with a reasonable long-term plan to prevent a fiscal crisis. And let’s face it, we really need to one. Unfortunately, the plan that is getting all the press these days is a fucking awful one.

As a self-professed sidewalk philosopher, I always feel the need to ask questions and on my blog, I encourage my readers to do the same. So here’s a question for you…is it better to have a shitty plan or no plan at all?

I enjoy the op-ed section of the New York Times and it rarely happens but once and a while Paul Krugman and David Brooks sound off on the same page about the same topic. I get a similar thrill watching Paul Begala and David Gergen duke it out on CNN. Yes, I said ‘thrill,’ my life is that sad.

"I've got a plan. It sucks but it's a plan goddamnit!"
But I enjoy these showdowns because even though we all love our pundits to regurgitate and reinforce our own ethos, it is more valuable and stimulating to hear perspectives on both sides. And yesterday’s op-ed issue was House Budget Chairman Paul Allen’s budget proposal. Merely a week old, the proposal is already making headlines and here I am, caught in the middle of the hyperbolic crossfire.

Is it “Bold?” “Ludicrous?” A beacon of fiscal responsibility? A good starting point or the latest Republican attempt at class warfare? Who do I trust? Who do I believe? I’m not a fucking economist so what am I to make of all this?

Well, lets try and get through this together. We can only hope that reason and solidarity will help us navigate these murky waters successfully. So what does the budget propose? To reduce federal spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade, during which it will also reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion. Well, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing does it?

Well, no. But unfortunately, trillions of dollars in spending do not magically disappear in the same manner as Charlie Sheen’s integrity. They go somewhere. And Ryan’s proposal, which the GOP is praising copiously, would take that money from very important places. First and foremost, this budget assumes that Obama’s health care overhaul will be repealed. So, that’s Allen’s version of forward thinking; repealing past laws that he isn’t very fond of. Not a good start but let’s not get too discouraged and press on.

After that, he proposes that over a trillion dollars be cut from Medicare and Medicaid spending. Here we go again. The Republican solution…fuck the poor and fuck the old. Fuck ‘em both. They’re a drag no matter how much money we shell out to them so maybe if we just stop paying for their health care, they will die off and we will be left with the Arian Utopia we all crave; a nation of young, rich, white, heterosexual Protestants. Then we can all traverse life with the comfort that Gay-Black-Poor Plague will not kill our babies while they sleep.

But don’t think that Allen is a heartless prick or anything like that. He does not want to entirely abolish Medicare, which, with an 85% approval rating, is one of America’s most liked programs. No, he just wants to replace it with vouchers that citizens can use to buy private policies. Well, that sounds just as good, no?

According to Paul Krugman, who cites the Congressional Budget Office in estimating that these vouchers will only cover one third of senior health costs, that would mean that the other two thirds, they would just have to come up with themselves. Krugman seems to think this is all a bad idea. And since he has a Nobel Prize in Economics on his mantle and I don’t, I’ll go ahead and take his word for it.  

On the flip side we have David Brooks, who is right when he claims that increasing taxes on the rich will not, in and of itself, cover our ever-expanding fiscal waistband. But the answer cannot simply be to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, which Ryan’s plan once again suggests in hopes that the magical “trickle down” effect will manifest this time around…which is kind of like betting that the next book Snooky writes will win the Pulitzer.

Brooks is accurate in his claims that Medicare cannot cover the costs of every single new procedure that medical science introduces and that the more affluent cross-section of the populous should shoulder a portion of the burden of paying for our social programs with a slight increase in their tax rates. I agree with both statements.

But most importantly, Brooks is correct in claiming that until Democrats come up with a plan to counter Ryan’s, they cannot be taken seriously in matters concerning fiscal responsibility. David Gergen echoed these sentiments on Anderson Cooper’s program yesterday evening. So what is the Democrats’ plan? Well, that’s the problem. They don’t appear to have one.

And they need one if they want to not only muffle the populist anti-debt outrage that has already begun to spread from Tea Parties to voting booths, but also to avoid the fiscal crisis that will unfold if our debt goes unchecked and we don’t find a responsible way to insure our social programs’ long-term solvency. If anyone is curious about what happens when such measures are not procured, see recent collapses in Greece, Ireland and coming soon to a Euro-bail-out near you…Portugal!

So how are we to resolve this fiscal calamity without sacrificing our most cherished programs? And can we do it without resorting to ideological pissing contests and budgets packed with pork, riders and other gizmos?

The fight goes on. But no one ever wins.
Probably not. As even this budget standoff turned into a battle over party ideals. And is it me or does it seem that every time the Democrats pursue better health care, cleaner air and women’s rights, the Republicans counter with pro-life rhetoric, voodoo economics and tax cuts for rich people and corporations? Am I crazy? I hate to dualistically generalize like this but no matter how much I listen to David Brooks or David Gergen’s intelligent and valid counterpoints, I just keep tacking back to the same questions.

If our taxes pay for a compassionate welfare state we can be proud of, how can Republicans keep championing tax cuts that only make the rich richer and diminish the revenue that pays for our social programs? How can half of America keep voting for a party that wants to abolish Medicare and prevent the protection of our environment while failing to even try to improve the unemployment rate? I just don’t get it. 

What am I missing? Don’t people realize that this whole “trickle down” approach to the economy doesn’t work and that it has already failed us in the past? Don’t people want the government to take care of us by championing affordable health care, clean air and an economic policy that takes care of the average working citizen? Why would the Republicans try to attach provisions to a budget that opposes all these things? Don’t people see that? Don’t they care? And as always, it leads me back to the same question…


Sorry. I just…I get a little upset with my fellow Americans sometimes. Anyway, Paul Ryan’s plan is an atrocious one. But right now, it’s the only one on the table and it’s the only one that people are talking about. That needs to change.